To Recline Or Not To Recline?

To Recline Or Not To Recline?
Reclining seats can be a nightmare for travellers , Photo Credit: Shutterstock

We tackle every traveller's most controversial question. Should one recline their flight seat or not?

Anshika Nagar
January 03 , 2020
02 Min Read

There are bad flights, and then there are downright nightmarish experiences that one can find themselves in when it comes to reclining seats and the lack of legroom. Now, short people (like me) won’t find this all that relatable, but on a recent flight, I was placed next to a six-footer for whom the woes of legroom and aching knees was a regular ordeal. 

But, even as someone who doesn’t care for legroom, reclining your seat is fun as long as you are not on the receiving end of it. Spilt beverages or food and broken electronics aside, it can be downright uncomfortable if not, invasive. 

As flights become cheaper and more frequent, the space between the seats seems to be decreasing. The average legroom provided in economy fare or in a budget airline is around 28 to 33 inches. This might sound grand, and might even be passable on a short flight, but can make a longer journey unbearable. 

So what does the travel etiquette say? Should we recline our seats or not? The answer is a mixed bag of opinions and much depends on the sort of traveller you wish to be. The easiest would be to upgrade your ticket but that may not always suit the pocket. 

Be a mindful traveller, don't recline your seat without asking

On one side, there are people who believe that because they paid for the ticket, space and the service, they have the right to recline their seats and rest. On long flights, sitting upright for hours can be gruelling for the body (often leading to health problems) and the little bit of tilt is a break that your body needs. Moreover, in an economy or budget flight, reclining is one of the few services that people are paying for, and so legally, no one can stop you from taking the due rest. 

On the other side, are those who believe that reclining seats should be made conceptually impossible. That it brings more discomfort and pain to the people behind you, often leading to injuries and accidents. And this is not including the situations when the passenger behind either has long legs, or a child with them. Their argument is, just because you can, doesn’t mean that you should. One can, for instance, cut their nails on a flight, but that doesn’t mean that they should.   

The idea is to be mindful and responsible as a traveller. On a short flight, don’t recline. Passengers are usually working or eating, and it would be rude to stretch out. If you are in for a long flight, take cues from the flight attendants and passengers around you. It is polite (and necessary) to look behind and see what they are doing before pressing the button; a simple question would solve your issue too. And very rarely would people tell you not recline your seat. If the light is dimmed, and everyone is turning to sleep then go right ahead. But never, I repeat, never recline your seat when people are eating -- you don’t want to be a part of that unfortunate incident. 


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